7 Effective Proofreading Tips for TV Writers

silhouette of alcoholic drunk man drinking whiskey bottle feeling depressed falling into addiction problem
Not the kind of proof reading we’re talking about here!

by Joan Selby

If you are a TV writer, you probably don’t need to worry about getting the grammar perfectly right, because most often than not, you will be required to write dialogue spoken by people using jargon or street lingo, which needs to be more believable and close to the way we speak in real life. You think David Simon obsessed over grammar when he wrote Homicide: Life on the Streets or The Wire? Surely not.

But still, you will have your work cut out for you, because you need to get all the nuances, punctuation, spelling, and the style just right, especially if your TV show is dialogue-oriented, otherwise it’s just going to sound wrong. This also means that using grammar-checking apps is out of the question, because they still aren’t on the level where they are able to emulate actual human speech.

Hiring an editor is great, but expensive, which means the only viable option is for you to all the proofreading and editing yourself. For that reason, we suggest you try out the following 7 tips.

1. Give Yourself and Your Writing Some Breathing Room

As a writer, you probably hate this stage where you have to edit your work, which is why most of us are tempted to get it over with as soon as possible. Sure, you can do that, but it might not be the best solution in terms of quality. It is not about getting it done faster, it is about winding up with a better script. You shouldn’t rush these things, especially if you have time. Now, we’re not suggesting that you start acting like Hank Moody from Californication, but you should step away from your work for a while, and then come back to it later, when your mind is fresh and full of new ideas.

2. Read Your Script Out Loud

TV writers should rely on this more than other writers, because their work will actually be read out loud on television by professional actors. Yes, those dialogs might look great on paper, but you can’t know for sure how they will sound until you can actually hear them. When you are going over your script, read it out loud, or better yet, get some of your actor friends to do a rehearsal. That way, you will be able to actually hear what you’ve written, and determine if there is anything that needs to be removed, fixed, expanded, or added to your script. Some of the witty and quirky dialogues on Boston Legal or Scrubs only start to make sense when they are acted out.

3. Start with the Ending

When you start to edit and proofread any kind of work, you will lose focus and concentration over time, which means you will dedicate more time and effort to the beginning and the middle of your script, and gloss over the ending, which would be a huge mistake, because in the land of TV, the ending is often the most crucial bit of the script, because it might contain numerous twists or cliffhangers, which needs to be logical, and you can’t afford to simply rush through them. Editing your work backwards is a great way of making sure that every single section of your script is top-notch.

4. Double-Check Your Script

Now that you’ve gone over your script and done your initial proofreading and editing, it’s time to do it all over again. Yes, it sounds like a nightmare, but the worst thing any writer can do is to fall in love with their own work, thinking it’s pretty much perfect the way it is. It’s one of the ways we flatter ourselves as writers. If we get it right the first time around, we are better writers. Wrong. It’s about getting it right, period. It doesn’t matter how many drafts you need to go through, because nobody is going to know, except you.

5. Read Only What’s There

Since you are the one writing your script, you will probably have the whole thing worked out in your head already, but you need to focus on what’s on the page, because that’s what will be read by the actors, and you can’t afford to make any mistakes there. Forget about what should be there, forget about what’s inside your head, and just read what’s written down, word for word. That way, you will be able to spot more errors, and prevent your mind from convincing that something is there, when it actually isn’t.

6. Check for the Mistakes You Make Regularly

Every TV writer has a few of those. Some writers tend to be sloppy with their punctuation, or they misspell certain words, or they forget to write them altogether. Whatever the case, it pays to be aware of them, and double-check your script in order to see if any of the common mistakes you are known to make have found their way into your writing.

7. Get Help

Two heads are better than one, so if you know a fellow writer whose opinion you value, have them go over your script and spot potential mistakes, as well as provide suggestions on how you can make your script even better. Just by reading your writing in front of someone can help you realize which elements work and which don’t, and which lines of dialogue you need to change, because they don’t sound natural, or appropriate for the universe which your characters inhabit. You wouldn’t want the lead character of your new legal drama to speak as if he is on Game of Thrones, would you now?


Getting your script filmed is fantastic, and if it proves to be a hit with the viewers and the critics, that’s even better, but in order to get there, you need to put in lots of time and hard work, and that includes endless edits and proofreading. We have these tips will help focus your efforts and make your proofreading process a lot more efficient. Good luck!

Joan Selby is a blogger  and a content marketer at Edugeeksclub.com which provides online assistance to students and supports them. Former CalArts graduate and fancy shoelover. A writer by day and reader by night. Giving creative touch to everything. Find her on Twitter and Facebook